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Engineer Offered Contract Following Closed Session

By Staff | Jan 20, 2011

“We’re here for the purpose of completing an evaluation on Joel,” noted Palo Alto County Supervisor Board Chair Keith Wirtz. “I’ve got to offer you a closed session if you would like it.”

“I’m open to either way,” Palo Alto County Engineer Joel Fantz replied, “but I know you expressed that you would prefer closed session last time”

“It’s your call,” Wirtz interjected. “To me, it doesn’t make any difference.”

“I guess we’ll go with closed session so you guys can speak freely and hopefully we can move beyond this,” Fantz said.

With that exchange, the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors and Palo Alto County Engineer entered into a closed session that lasted an hour and 45 minutes Tuesday afternoon to discuss the engineer’s job performance. The issue of job performance had come to a head at the end of December when the board voted 3-2 to offer Fantz a six-month contract of employment.

A meeting a week later, attended by several citizens, questioned the board’s reasoning for the short contract, and concluded with the supervisors and Fantz agreeing to an employee evaluation session where the board members could express their concerns. That evaluation was conducted Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 18, in the boardroom of the Palo Alto County Courthouse.

After Fantz elected the closed session, the board entered into the closed session in accordance with Chapter 21.5 of the Code of Iowa, subsection (i): “To evaluate the professional competency of an individual whose appointment, hiring, performance or discharge is being considered when necessary to prevent needless and irreparable injury to that individual’s reputation and that individual requests a closed session.”

Entering into the closed session, several citizens who had come to the session left the boardroom as the supervisors and Fantz began their discussion at 1:05 p.m. Discussions continued until 2:50 p.m., when the board came out of closed session and resumed open session.

“I would move that we offer Joel a two and a half year contract extension beyond the end of his current six-month contract,” Supervisor Ron Graettinger said, and immediately received a second to the motion from Supervisor Leo Goeders.

“Joel has agreed to go in the direction we want him to go and this is crazy if we don’t,” Goeders continued. “I don’t know what else we can ask of him.”

“I think we better open this up for discussion,” Wirtz said. “I’m not saying I’d be against it, but I don’t think we can do it today. We were going to do our priorities and make sure we are all on the same page and I think we need budgets done this week. One week isn’t going to hurt anybody. That’s my opinion.”

“Even Joel said it wouldn’t be a bad idea to look into this sharing so we can be educated on the right or the wrong of it, and I would like to meet with Emmet County board and discuss it.” Supervisor Ed Noonan said.

“They would like to meet with our whole board, too,” Supervisor Jerry Hofstad added.

“Ron says that we can still do this, even if Joel has a contract, and I’d like to see it added into the contract” Noonan added.

“Well, first off, we have to see if he’d be interested in sharing,” Hofstad said of Fantz. “He may not want the job.”

“I thought we were going to have a priority list and put them in the contract,” Wirtz said.

“No, that goes on a job description. We can change his job description, he just has to OK that,” Graettinger replied. “But this is his contract.”

With the discussion concluded, Wirtz called for a roll call vote.

“Do we have your undivided attention?” Hofstad asked Fantz.

“You have my attention,” the engineer replied.

Hofstad then turned to Wirtz and voted “Aye.”

Graettinger and Goeders voted “aye, while Noonan voted “nay.”

Wirtz tapped a pen on the table in front of him for a moment. “I’m going to vote nay. I’m not saying I wouldn’t agree but I would like just a little more time. The vote is 3-2 and the motion is passed.”

“Thank you very much for the offer,” Fantz said to the board.

Addressing the priority list, Fantz suggested that the supervisors visit with their respective foremen to develop their lists of projects, an idea that all were in agreement with as the session concluded.

The board members agreed to have County Attorney Lyssa Henderson draw up the new contract offer and job description, giving Fantz two months to decide his intentions.